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Study links medical spending to life expectancy gains



August 31, 2006

NIA Press Office | 301-496-1752 | nianews3@mail.nih.gov



What: A new study looks at medical spending and increased life expectancy between 1960 and 2000 and determines that medical expenses provide reasonable value. The study, to be published in the August 31, 2006,New England Journal of Medicine, was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Lasker Foundation.

Why: Between 1960 and 2000, life expectancy increased by seven years. In the past 20 years, costs for each year of life gained have increased markedly, particularly in older age groups. Current trends suggest that the value of health care spending as measured by additional years of life may be decreasing over time, particularly in people over 65, the authors conclude. In the new study, David M. Cutler, Ph.D., and colleagues attempt to understand the value of the medical system as a whole by examining the relationship between medical spending and gains in survival.

“The National Institutes of Health has conducted and funded research that has led to important biomedical advances and to subsequent gains in years of life,” says Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., director of the NIH. “As we face a boom in the numbers of older people, it is critical that we more rigorously understand the real value of these advances.”

"The growing numbers of older Americans is a story that we can be proud of, and medical expenditures have played an increasingly important role in this success," says Richard M. Suzman, Ph.D., Director of the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the NIA. Further, Suzman points out, "If the study had been able to factor in the improved functioning and quality of life of older people, the value of such medical spending would have looked even better, especially for the older population."

However, he adds, the study is a cautionary note. "This research also suggests that we must redouble efforts to use health care dollars more efficiently, and urgently focus on discovering new ways to reduce disability and prevent diseases such as Alzheimer's as the baby boom ages."

Spokesperson: Richard Suzman, Ph.D., Director, Behavioral and Social Research Program, NIA.

NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older people. For more information on research and aging, go to www.nia.nih.gov. The public may also obtain information on health and aging by calling 1-800-222-2225.

NIH - the nation's medical research agency - includes 27 institutes and centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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